Basic 6 Skills of Scuba Diving

The Recreational Scuba Training Council (RSTC) is the training council that determines the minimum skills that need to be taught for scuba diving classes. Most of the big training agencies such as PADI, SDI, and SSI are all members of the RSTC and therefore have adopted the minimal skills required by the RSTC. In the basic open water class, there are 20 skills that students are required to master. Some of these skills are more useful than others such as regulator and mask skills that we use on every dive. There are 6 basic skills that we must master in order to lay a strong foundation for sound diving.

The basic 6 skills of diving are progressive. So as we go through the basic 6, please remember that every skill will be a small piece of the next skill. The basic 6 are the following:

1) Regulator Removal and Replacement – This skill is simply taking the regulator out of your mouth, re-inserting it in your mouth, and clearing the water out of the reg. When we take the regulator out of our mouth, we don’t want to cover the front of it with our hand. This may restrict access to the purge button when doing air shares. Remember, each skill builds upon the previous one. So let’s get into the habit of doing it right the first time. Some training agencies teach that if the regulator is out of your mouth, you should be blowing tiny bubbles. The theory behind this is that if you start to ascend while holding your breath, then the risk of rupturing a long is strongly increased. However, if you hold a normal breath and your buoyancy doesn’t change, then the risk of rupturing a lung is not high. This is simple physics. Gas expands as we ascend, but if we are neutrally buoyant, the gas doesn’t expand. Of course, if you start to ascend, start blowing those tiny bubbles.

2) Regulator Switch – This is pretty simple. We remove the regulator from our mouth and clip it off to the right chest d-ring. Then put the backup regulator in your mouth and clear it. Are you starting to see how skill #1 comes into play? If can’t put a regulator into your mouth and clear it, you can’t switch to another regulator (buddies or your own backup). We clip off the long hose to make sure it isn’t hanging down to catch on something. It also builds the muscle memory for doing a gas switch in technical diving.

3) Regulator Recovery and Replacement – If your regulator comes out of your mouth for any reason, it should not be a time to panic. Simply put the backup regulator on the bungee necklace into your mouth, clear it, and then find the primary reg. We can find the primary regulator by rolling slightly to our right. That should drop the regulator down and we should be able to find it by feeling our right shoulder with our left hand. If we cannot find it, then we can simply find the long hose as it is coming around our torso and follow it with our hands. The second stage is guaranteed to be at the end of the long hose. :) Once we find the primary regulator, remove the backup and insert the primary and clear it.

These first three skills build the foundation for even more critical skills such as doing air shares and gas switching.

4) Mask Flood and Clear – This is one that everyone should have learned in their open water class. Simply flood the mask by cracking it from the top to let the water in. To clear the mask, crack the bottom seal, exhale through the nose and look up slightly. This will fill the mask with air and force the water out of the bottom. If you try to clear by cracking the mask seal from the top, the air will force water to the bottom of the mask. Thus not getting all of the water out of the mask. This skill is where the low volume masks are a great benefit. A low volume mask doesn’t have much of an air space between the class and your face. This means that it doesn’t take a lot of air from your nose to clear the mask. Also remember never to over exhale when clearing the mask. This causes your buoyancy to change.

5) Mask Removal and Replacement – This skills is critical in the event your mask comes off and you have to switch to a backup mask. Not having a mask on, should not be a situation for panic. Situational and buddy awareness comes into play here. If you see your buddy’s mask come off, you should be right there with your backup mask out. To perform this skill, simply flood your mask as mentioned in skill #4, but do not remove the mask just yet. This allows us to get used to the cold water on our face. If we were to yank our mask off and that cold water hits us, our first response is to inhale. Many times, through our nose. That means we suck in some water. But if we keep the mask on, let it flood for a breath or two, then take it off it helps to reinforce that we need to remain calm when the colder water hits our face. Now we can take the mask off our head. When replacing the mask, first locate the nose pocket. This gives us a reference point as to the orientation of the mask. This makes sure that we are not putting on the mask up side down. Do you see the link from skill #4 to now?

6) Modified S-Drill – The S-Drill is also known as the safety drill. The full safety drill, simply put, is the air sharing drill. The modified s-drill is the mechanics of donating the long hose, switching to your backup, and re-stowing the long hose when done. The modified s-drill, you donate the primary regulator with your right hand, by grabbing the hose, and “unwrapping” the hose from around your head. When you grab the hose, your palm is facing your. To donate, remove the regulator from your mouth, raise your hand straight up then in front of you. While doing this, rotate your hand such that your palm is no facing away from you. This will put the regulator into the correct position such that the out of gas diver just has to open up, insert the regulator, and clear it. Remember to keep the mouthpiece facing down as to prevent free flow. So once you have donated the primary and extended it in front of you, switch to your backup and clear it. No move the regulator to your left hand, while keeping it extended in front of you. With your right hand, form an “O” with your thumb and index fingers around the hose. Trace the hose back to your right hip. If you have a canister light, un-tuck the hose from under it. If your hose is tucked into your waist belt, pull it out. Then windmill your right arm up and to the front of you while holding onto the hose. This will clear the long hose from behind the wing. Now the long hose is fully deployed. To re-stow the long hose, trace the hose with your right hand, windmill the hose back behind you so that it is behind the wing, tuck the hose under your canister light or into your waist belt. Now you form a small bend in the hose, with the reg in your right hand now, such that it is just big enough to go over your head and not get caught on your valves behind you. Loop the hose over your head and switch from your backup to the primary and clear it. Finally, trace the long hose so that you can verify it is in the correct position. Don’t forget to turn your head to the left. If the reg feels like it wants to come out, then somewhere the long hose is too tight and needs a little more slack so you can turn your head comfortably.

Here is video clip showing the modified s-drill:

These are the basic 6 skills of diving that form the foundation for many other skills. As you can see, each build upon previous skills. The modified s-drill now uses skills 1-3 as part of the drill. As with all skills, these should be done while neutrally buoyant and with good trim.

Please feel free to ask any questions or post any comments.

Dive Safe,
Duane Johnson
Precision Diving

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About Duane Johnson

Duane Johnson is the founder of Precision Diving and runs a scuba diving blog to help scuba divers improve their diving skills and enjoyment. He teaches recreational and technical scuba diving classes in the Chicago area. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @PrecisionDiving.


  1. As Always Duane:

    Beautifully written and salient article on the state of dysfunction of the current scuba industry. Folks are being hoodwinked into thinking that they are technical diving from diveshops too quick to take their money and booting them out the door to us.

    Im again swiping your article and posting on my blog, so that your words get wider distribution!


  2. Lynne Flaherty says:

    Paragraph #3, I do believe you mean to say “should NOT be a reason to panic”. :-)

  3. Thanks Lynne. I fixed it.

  4. Patrick Abercrombie says:


    I always enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for raising the bar.

    Just one small error I would like to point out in your Basic 6 Skills” article. NAUI is no longer a member of the RSTC. Hasn’t been for quite some time. As stated above, just a small error.

    • Thank you for clearing that up for me Patrick. I’m not a NAUI instructor and didn’t know they hadn’t been in the RSTC. Thanks again.